MKs Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz, who emerged as the front runners in Monday's election for Labor Party leader, began preparing yesterday for the second round, which will take place one week from today.
The Labor Party yesterday released the official results of the election, which revealed that Yachimovich bested Peretz by only 600 votes. Yachimovich garnered 32.2 percent of the vote to Peretz's 30.9.
Third runner-up was MK Isaac Herzog, with 24.6 percent of the vote. A distant fourth was Amram Mitzna, with 11.9 percent.
All told, 44,184 Labor Party members cast their vote Monday, constituting 66.7 percent of the party roster.
Yachimovich and Peretz are expected to use the next few days to solidify alliances with Herzog and Mitzna, to take their messages to the public and improve their logistics to bring out the voters.
"There were moments when voices were raised, but now what we have left is a fascinating campaign that will bring the Labor Party back to the heart of things," Yachimovich said after the results of the first round were made public.
Yachimovich said she intended to meet with Herzog, with whom she had clashed over the past few weeks, to ask for his support, and is expected to offer Herzog the number two spot on her list and partnership in leading the party.
"We are partners to a common vision. We can focus on that and not on personal clashes," she said.
Peretz, who is also courting Herzog, continued the belligerent line that has typified his campaign, yesterday accusing Yachimovich of a patronizing and racist attitude.
He apparently intends to send the public a message in the coming days that a vote for Yachimovich is like a vote for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Peretz fired the first volley yesterday when he said that Yachimovich had supported Likud in votes of no confidence in the Knesset over the departure of Labor from the government. He also told his campaign staff that the prime minister's bureau and Likud ministers were stirring the pot to bring about a Yachimovich victory.
In radio interviews yesterday, Peretz also accused Yachimovich of "stealing credit" for pieces of social-minded legislation he had formulated.
He also told his campaign staff yesterday at a strategy meeting that the election results were "a failure for Shelly Yachimovich," adding "she received 42 percent in a poll and all possible support from the media, and still she didn't win.
"What Shelly did to Herzog is not fair," Peretz said, referring to Yachimovich's public call not to support Herzog, although at the time Yachimovich made the statement, Peretz issued no response decrying it.
"True, Herzog sat in the government. He did it because he believed Bibi would change his ways regarding the peace process," Peretz continued. "We did not believe it, but he sat openly in the government and paid the price. Now she says she didn't support Netanyahu. But she voted for him in the no-confidence votes. What is support if not a vote in the Knesset?"
Political sources have said over the past few days that Likud would prefer to see Yachimovich at the Labor Party helm because she would take votes away from Kadima in a general election, while Peretz could take votes from Likud in the outlying districts.
In response to Peretz's criticism, Yachimovich said yesterday: "I object deeply to the violence in Peretz's remarks and from the lying vilifications. But I do not intend to be dragged into inflamed dialogue. I am sure that Labor's voters oppose such rhetoric and style in a political campaign."
Herzog, courted by both contestants, has still not decided who he will support. Over the past weeks he had warned that a vote for either Peretz or Yachimovich would mean that more voters will leave the party. But he has indicated that he does not agree with Yachimovich's focus on social issues over security issues.
Three people could decide the election. One is Herzog, who proved he has a significant power base also among the Arabs and the Bedouin. Another is Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini, whom Peretz despises, and who is expected to instruct work committees and his supporters in Labor to vote for Yachimovich. The third is party veteran MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who has not declared his support for any of the candidates yet.
Sources in Labor yesterday mentioned Peretz's "tragedy": Two of his proteges, Yachimovich and Eini, abandoned him and tried to defeat him.
The struggle over votes will now proceed on three levels. The candidates will have to persuade idealistic voters who make their choice individually to move their support from Herzog or Mitzna to them. They will also have to persuade "vote contractors" who can bring hundreds of voters from one camp to another.
Thirdly, they will have to fight apathy and get the voters out one more time to support them. With only 66 percent coming out to vote in the first round, apathy may be the candidates' biggest problem in the second round.
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